I Think About You

Myka H-L; Rachel S.; Hallie and Atalie B.; Zoe H.; Emma, Ada, and Carys F.; Abby, Katie and Dani D.; Abby and Maria K.; Kate and Anne A. 

After work tonight, I stopped by the D. family’s house. Homecoming at the local high school is this week, culminating in the Homecoming Dance on Saturday night. All three of the girls are going – senior Abby, sophomore Katie, and freshman Dani. I’ll be out of town Saturday, so I got to preview their dresses tonight. Dani in royal blue and rhinestones; Katie a stunner in black; Abby adorable in the navy blue – even as she repeatedly sassed her mom (and got away with it because of her smile and the twinkle in her eyes).

On Facebook, my great-niece Ada’s mom posted the following conversation with her (Ada is four, Carys is one):

“But Carys wrote it!”
“…Carys did not write ADA on the door.”

On Instagram, Zoe smiles straight at me, cuddling with her grandpa Pappas in a booth at a Chicago diner. In a text my goddaughter Kate can barely contain her excitement as she gets her first pedicure.

Myka is studying for her doctorate in England; Rachel is enlivening a theater company’s shows. Hallie is saving the world from her dorm room at UNM; her sister Atalie is singing and dramatizing her way to accolades. Abby K. is running marathons while her baby sister Maria is busy trying to act like a much older kid. Anne is starting to use understandable words, though she still (adorably) barks at people.

These fifteen young women and girls are my nieces and great nieces, my goddaughters and the children of my heart. I could tell you things that make each of them unique, and sweet and extraordinary – even little Carys, whom I haven’t technically met yet. Their smiles, stories, tears, laughter and hugs enrich my life. Just knowing they are in the world brings me joy.

Which is why, when another study came out recently saying as many as one in four college women will experience unwanted sexual contact/sexual assault, it broke my heart. The odds are against my girls.

I don’t know why I should expect that they will somehow be safe, simply because they are my loved ones. After all, American girls and women are in good company. Worldwide, women experience violence at staggering rates, often at the hands of those they know. (Some statistics from UN Women can be found at the end of this piece.)

Unfortunately, violence – the kind that is reportable and quantifiable (whether it is either ever reported or accurately quantified) isn’t even the whole story. As I watch the news, I am astounded that in 2015 a candidate for president of the United States can, with almost complete impunity, demean a professional woman as having “blood coming out of her wherever” because he didn’t like the hard questions she asked. Or make fun of a female opponent’s face, suggesting she isn’t good-looking enough to be elected.

Earlier this year, I was appalled as I watched a news story unfold in Minneapolis. Lisa Bender, the city council woman from my own ward – an incredible advocate for those who are often voiceless in local politics, a cancer survivor, and a mother whose example of political activism to her daughters is (in my opinion) truly admirable – was the victim of a horrific social media harassment campaign. It happened because she voted in a manner contrary to the wishes of the celebrity host of an HGTV show. The celebrity posted her displeasure over the councilwoman’s vote. The onslaught of hatred this unleashed was immediate – not only calling Ms. Bender demeaning names (bitch, piece of shit, waste of human flesh), but also calling for, most particularly, sexual violence against her.

And then I think about examples from my own life. The times I’ve been called a “fat bitch” (and worse) for doing my job or just for being in a public place. Or when addressing college students’ behavior, being ushered into a dorm room with a giant television playing porno movies in an attempt to humiliate me. The times strange men have almost angrily told me to smile or offered to “put a smile on my face”. About the times I’ve been told in the workplace, by men and women both, that my being smart intimidates my male colleagues or superiors, or that I need to “play the game” better, “stroke his ego” more. About the many times I’ve been told to stop talking like a “feminazi” when all I’ve asked is to be treated with equal dignity and respect.

Violence against women takes many forms: physical, psychological, emotional. Anyone who thinks we’ve progressed past discrimination based on gender isn’t paying much attention. If you’re a man reading this, pleases refrain from commenting #notallmen. Because we are all part of this culture – it IS all men, and it IS, unfortunately, all women too. Until we all radically reconsider the ways we contribute to the culture of violence against women – even if we contribute to it by remaining silent, by not calling it what it is – it will not change.

To my nephews, great-nephews, godsons, and male children of my heart:  I could tell the world things that make each of you unique, and sweet and extraordinary – even little Ezra, whom I haven’t technically met yet. Your smiles, stories, tears, laughter and hugs enrich my life. Just knowing you are in the world brings me joy.

Which is why I have hope that things can change. That, together, we can create a less violent world for all our women and girls, for all our people.

“I Think About You”

Every time I see a woman on a billboard sign
I think about you
Saying “drink this beer and you’ll be mine”
I think about you
When an actress on a movie screen
Plays Lolita in some old man’s dreams
It doesn’t matter who she is
I think about you

When I see a pretty woman walking down the street
I think about you
Men look her up and down like she’s some kind of treat
I think about you
She wouldn’t dare talk to a stranger
always has to be aware of the danger
it doesn’t matter who she is
I think about

You: eight years old
big blue eyes and a heart of gold
when I look at this world, I think about
You and I can’t help but see
that every woman used to be
Somebody’s little girl, I think about you

Everytime I hear people say it’s never gonna change
I think about you
Like it’s some kind fo joke, some kind of game
I think about you
When I see a woman on the news
who didn’t ask to be abandoned or abused
it doesn’t matter who she is
I think about


When I look at this world I think about you

–Colin Raye


  • 35 per cent of women worldwide have experienced either physical and/or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence.
  • It is estimated that of all women killed in 2012, almost half were killed by intimate partners or family members.
  • Worldwide, more than 700 million women alive today were married as children (below 18 years of age). More than one in three—or some 250 million—were married before 15.
  • Around 120 million girls worldwide (slightly more than 1 in 10) have experienced forced intercourse or other forced sexual acts at some point in their lives
  • More than 133 million girls and women have experienced some form of female genital mutilation (FGM) in the 29 countries in Africa and the Middle East where the harmful practice is most common.
  • Trafficking ensnares millions of women and girls in modern-day slavery. Women and girls represent 55 per cent of the estimated 20.9 million victims of forced labour worldwide, and…
  • …98 per cent of the estimated 4.5 million forced into sexual exploitation.
  • In the United States, 83 per cent of girls in grades 8 through 11 (aged 12 to 16)have experienced some form of sexual harassment in public schools.